Turquoise, formed from hydrated copper aluminum phosphate, is one of the earliest gemstones ever mined, starting 3,000 years ago in Persia (now Iran). The sky-blue stone mined there was treasured because it was believed to have healing properties and the ability to protect or warn the wearer of evil.

Because of its scarcity, this beautiful blue turquoise is no longer mined in Iran, and so antique Persian turquoise jewelry, often carved and inlaid with gold, is extremely valuable. Such pieces, like necklaces and amulets, first came to Europe through Turkey, hence the name, “turquoise.”

However, this microcrystalline conchoidal stone has been found all over the globe, including in the former USSR, Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, China, Chile, Australia, Tanzania, Turkestan, England, Mexico, and the United States. Cultures throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas have attributed spiritual powers to turquoise.

The light and fragile material can range from opaque to semi-translucent, with a waxy to dull luster, and its colors, which vary based on their iron and copper content, span from China blue to deep blue, and from blue-green to yellowy green. In Tibet, green is the most valued color of turquoise.

Turquoise often has “inclusions” from the mother stone or “matrix” that held the turquoise as it formed, and this creates a “spiderweb” effect of brown, black, or ochre veins. Sometimes the spiderwebbing that perforates turquoise nuggets can make them easy to break apart if not handled correctly. Turquoise mined in the U.S. and Mexico is greener and often has more inclusions than the vein-free sky-blue version treasured in Persia.

Turquoise may be used for beads, cabochons, or carved pieces like cameos in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, and belt buckles. The most valuable turquoise available today comes from the Sleeping Beauty mines in Arizona; ideally, it is dark blue and matrix-free. A row of this grade of turquoise in 12mm round beads should cost as much as a row of 4.5mm faceted rubies.

In the late 1800s, Navajo artisans began to incorporate turquoise mined locally into their silver jewelry, but it was quickly mined out. A trader named Lorenzo Hubble began to import cut turquoise from Persia for the Native Americans to use. Then, in the early 1900s, a new mine for cut turquoise opened in Nevada. Soon other American mines followed. By then, it was expected that Native American jewelry would include turquoise...

Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, and other tribes all developed distinct turquoise styles. For example, the Navajo created what is known as the “squash blossom” necklace style, which features a crescent-shaped pendant covered with turquoise beads. This style may have come from the pomegranate motif that the Spanish conquistadors brought to Mexico, but there is little evidence the Native Americans intended this design to represent that flower. This style was also adopted by the Zuni.

Zuni jewelry is known for its rows of “snake eyes,” which are small, rounded, high-domed cabochons, often made of turquoise or coral, as well as its “petit point” jewelry, a style that originated in the 1920s and is made of tiny hand-cut rounded, oval, or square turquoise clustered in unique designs. The Pueblo tribes, and particularly the San Domingo tribe, were known for their use of turquoise in mosaic jewelry, as well as their disk- or tube-shaped heishe beads. The Zuni were the first to introduce turquoise animal-shaped fetish beads.

If the turquoise in such Native American pieces has a matrix in it, sometimes it is also possible to identify which U.S. mine the stone came from, but not always.

In the 1950s and ’60s, several of the most glamorous jewelry collectors in the United States and Europe, such as Ava Gardner, had parures with pendent earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and brooches fashioned out of large sky-blue and matrix-free Persian turquoise beads set with small, faceted diamonds.

Actress Merle Oberon wore such a parure, one from her own collection, for her role as a glamorous duchess in the 1967 movie “Hotel.” Opera singer Renata Tebaldi wore a costume jewelry piece for her lead role in “Adriana Lecouvreur” in Spain. Later, she had the set upgraded with real diamonds and turquoise. Countess Mona Bismarck had two particularly exquisite floral-themed turquoise-bead necklaces, one with a résille net setting and another made with twisted gold wire.

In the ’70s, Native American jewelry became wildly popular, to the point that United States mines were overwhelmed by the demand. Once again, Native American traders had to start importing Persian turquoise. This time, buyers focused on particular artisans and skilled jewelry makers such as Robert Sorrell, Charles Loloma, Lambert Homer, and Porfilio Sheyka.

Most turquoise jewelry on the market today, particularly if it is affordable, is imitation turquoise, or low-grade turquoise treated to have a more attractive appearance. In fact, imitation turquoise goes back to the Victorians, who were the first to use glass to mimic the stone; it is difficult to distinguish from the real thing, but if you spot bubbles under the surface, you are looking at glass.

Enamel turquoise tends to have a greater luster than real turquoise. Other stones like howlite, fossil bone, limestone, and chalcedony are stained and sold as turquoise, too. In 1972, a French company called Gilson produced imitation turquoise in the lab, and even gave it the spiderweb matrix.

Natural turquoise may also be treated. Reconstructed or pressed turquoise is made of turquoise powder or chips mixed with liquid plastic resin, which is then dyed and baked. This cheap material can be identified by looking at it under magnification or heating it, as it will reveal a burning plastic smell.

Most real American turquoise may turn green in response to light, oil, heat, and water, so it should be treated with care. Because it is more porous than Persian turquoise, American turquoise is stabilized by soaking it in resin or impregnating it with wax. This is to keep it from crumbling and does not affect the value. Enhanced turquoise is dyed to improve its color and luster, but the effect is temporary, so this kind of turquoise is much cheaper. In this case, you can see the difference in color just by scratching the surface.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s Jewel History blog have been treated to her weekly (someti… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1960s Heavy 14k Gold Turquoise Cluster Floral Hinged Bangle Bracelet18ct Gold 18th Century Lapis Lazuli,cornelian,turquoise Heavy Chain Necklace,750Estate Turquoise 14.10ct Diamond 18k Gold Flower Earrings 17.5 Grams NrVtg Chinese Export Sterling Silver Filigree Turquoise 1” Wide Bracelet17g Spectacular Vintage Navajo Sterling Silver Crow Springs Turquoise Ring Sz 89ct/ 9k Gold Fine Victorian Turquoise Cluster Ring, 375Vintage Old Pawn Navajo Navajo Multi-stone Turquoise Sterling Bracelet SignedRare Vintage Navajo ""high Grade Blue Turquoise"" Silver BraceletFabulous Vintage Navajo Sterling Silver Royston Turquoise Cuff BraceletOld Pawn Navajo Handmade 925 Sterling Silver Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace Jason Yazzie Navajo 925 Sterling Silver Needlepoint Turquoise Cuff Bracelet J LxAntique Art Nouveau 14k Gold Turquoise Pearl BroochBig Vtg Old Pawn Navajo Turquoise Elb Begay Naja Sterling PendantVintage Chunky Heavy Sterling Navajo Old Pawn Easter Blue Turquoise Brooch Pin15ct/ 15k Gold Victorian Seed Pearl & Turquoise Love Heart Ring, 625Vintage Sterling Silver Plated Turquoise Squash Blossom NecklaceAntique Solid 18ct Gold Early Victorian Diamond Turquoise Set Ladies Ring Size LFine 9ct /9k 375 Gold Seedpearl Turquoise & Diamond Art Nouveau Style Necklace Vintage Old Pawn Navajo Leo Coriz Santo Domingo Slab Turquoise Sterling Bracelet2 5/8" Huge Vintage Zuni Sterling Silver Carved Leaf Royston Turquoise Ring Sz 7Etername Turquoise Sapphires 18k Gold Flamenco Pendant 15" Necklace NrVintage Navajo Santo Domingo Turquoise Rolled Rondel Green 20" Sterling NecklaceDainty Vintage Navajo Old Pawn Hand Crafted Spiderweb Turquoise Dangle EarringsLarge Vintage Navajo Sterling Carved Turquoise Coral Inlay Men's Ring Size 1118ct/ 18k Gold Fine Victorian Natural Turquoise & Seed Pearl Ring, 750Vintage Sterling T.p Navajo Naja Squash Blossom Coral Turquoise Pendant NecklaceVintage Signed Pink Turquoise Squash Blossom Necklace Vtg. Old Pawn Navajo Twist Wire Rope Hand Stamped Sterling Silver Cuff BraceletCoolest Vintage 18k Gold Treasure Chest Turquoise Gambler Dice CharmVintage Navajo & Zuni Loaded Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral 24 Charm Bracelet J18ct/ 18k Gold Fine Victorian Natural Turquoise Drop Earrings, 750Vtg Navajo Handmade Sterling Silver Turquoise Chunk & Heishi Bead Necklace J AxVintage Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Pendant W/ Large Stamped Bale Signed BVintage Navajo & Zuni Loaded Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral 21 Charm Bracelet JVintage~navajo~anita Whitegoat~sterling~sleeping Beauty Turquoise~braceletVintage Chunky Sterling Old Pawn Navajo 3 Stone Royston Turquoise Cuff BraceletAntique Turquoise 18k Yellow Gold Dome Cluster Ring 7.7 Grams NrAwesome Vintage Navajo Solid Silver Turquoise Cluster Cuff Bracelet - 81 GramsVtg Navajo Old Pawn Silver Turquoise Buffalo Nickels Beaded 23 1/2" NecklaceOld Pawn Vintage Navajo Old Turquoise Squash Blossom Sterling Dangle EarringsBeautiful Victorian Gold Over Silver Turquoise And Pearl LocketVintage Robin Egg Blue Turquoise Navajo Medallion Cuff Bracelet,signed SHuge Vintage Navajo ""natural Green Turquoise"" Silver BraceletVtg Old Pawn 1900s' Navajo Handmade Sterling Silver Row Turquoise Cuff BraceletStunning Large Oval Turquoise & 9ct Gold Cluster RingOld Pawn Vintage Native Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Pendant 4 Necklace NiceVintage Handmade Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral Watch Bands | J BiEstate Diamond 23.20ct Turquoise 10k & 14k Gold Floral Earrings 15.9 Grams NrSuperb Arts & Crafts Art Nouveau Jugendstil Silver & Turquoise Brooch-very Fine!Vintage Old Pawn Navajo Heavy Sterling Silver Kingman Turquoise Bracelet SignedVintage Native American Sterling Silver Turquoise & Coral Cuff Bracelet 6"Vtg Antique 2" Native American Zuni Bird Pin / Brooch Turquoise Coral StoneAmazing Old Pawn Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Cluster Cuff Bracelet | G LlVintage Navajo Jerry Cowboy Sterling Cactus Flower Turquoise Cuff 62 GramsVintage Old Pawn Navajo Gem Grade Spiderweb Turquoise Sterling Handmade NecklaceVintage Sterling Large Natural Turquoise Nuggets Bracelet 24 GramsVintage Navajo Native American Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet W/ Turquoise 44 GrmVintage Navajo Handmade Solid Sterling Silver Turquoise Cuff Bracelet | J BoBeautiful Vintage 18ct Yellow Gold & Turquoise Ladies Dress Ring C1940s/50sVintage Estate Native Navajo Pawn Sterling Silver Blue Turquoise Belt & Buckle!